Slovakia bans grain imports to Ukraine despite EU warning

The Slovakian government has banned food imports to Ukraine for the third time in the EU, despite warnings by Brussels about the possible illegality of this move.

Poland and Hungary both announced their bans over the weekend. All three countries said that a mountainous amount of Ukrainian grain imported was causing prices to fall and hardship for their farmers. Warsaw’s and Budapest’s restrictions will last until 30 June.

The European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) has warned that trading is a shared EU competence, and that governments cannot take unilateral actions.

After the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the EU lowered tariffs and quotas for Ukrainian food until June. They feared that there could be famine in other parts of world.

Farmers have protested because a large amount of grain from Ukraine that entered the EU has been left in the neighbouring countries.

Slovakia announced on Monday that it will ban all cereals and soyabeans as well as sugar, fruits, vegetables, wines, and honey. Ukrainian food can only be transported in sealed containers.

According to EU officials, Bulgaria and Romania informed their fellow member states that they were also considering a ban at a Monday meeting of diplomats held in Brussels. According to EU officials, the Czech Republic, whose farmers also complain, preferred an European solution.

Some countries expressed concern that the divisions over Ukraine could play into Russia’s hands.

Officials have confirmed that the commission will pledge additional aid from its EUR450mn reserve for emergency agricultural assistance in the coming days. Recently, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania received EUR56mn and the next tranche is likely to extend to Slovakia and Hungary.

At a meeting held on Thursday, EU member states will likely extend tariff-free access to Ukrainian food by another year despite the bans.

One said, “There’s a majority of states that want to extend.”

The European Commission stated on Monday that Brussels is still looking for details about the legal basis of the measures taken by Poland and Hungary to limit imports from Ukraine.

The statement said that member states could not take “unilateral actions” under EU trade policy, as this was an exclusive matter of Brussels’ competence.

Rarely do member states impose restrictions on their citizens outside of an emergency situation such as the Covid Pandemic.

The commission stated that “we need to know on what basis these countries impose such import bans.”

It’s important to support Ukraine during these difficult times, while we are also aware of the impacts on EU farmers.